S. Illinois 64, Indiana St. 49
ST. LOUIS (AP)—In the end, Southern Illinois played like a top seed.
Darren Brooks scored 16 points and the regular-season champion Salukis fought off a late charge from Indiana State in a 64-49 quarterfinal victory in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Saturday.
Jamaal Tatum added 14 points and five assists for the Salukis (26-6), the No. 1 seed in the tournament for the fourth straight year, but they had to scrap for success more than usual. A lead that was 17 points was down to three with about five minutes to go before Southern Illinois answered Indiana State’s 14-0 run with 15 straight points to put the game away.
“We knew we had to make plays down the stretch,” said Brooks, the Valley player of the year the last two seasons. “The thing was, even though they were scoring we kept playing tough defense.”
Southern Illinois was 15-3 in conference play, winning the Missouri Valley by three games, and beat No. 9 seed Indiana State for the third time this season.
“Frankly, they were just too good, and they defended us,” Indiana State coach Royce Waltman said. “We shot the ball poorly and that’s because of the way they played defense.
“But I can’t say I was surprised that we came back because our guys have quite a bit of fiber to them.”
The Salukis enter the semifinals with a nine-game winning streak and have won 11 of 12 overall. They are trying to win the conference tournament for the first time since 1995 under first-year coach Chris Lowery.
Lowery, who played on the Salukis’ last conference championship, leads first-year Division I coaches in victories. Five of Southern Illinois’ players, including three starters and senior leaders Brooks and Stetson Hairston, are from the St. Louis area.
Amani Daanish had 14 points and Gabriel Moore had 11 for Indiana State (11-20), which lost 10 of its last 14 games and gave Southern Illinois a scare despite 31 percent shooting. Eric Gray added 10 points despite 4-for-13 shooting, heating up just in time to make it interesting with three straight baskets in the 14-0 run.
“Our biggest problem was turnovers that led to easy baskets,” Lowery said. “We didn’t do a good job during the guts of the game taking care of the ball, and that helped them get back in the game.”
David Moss scored on a fastbreak after a Tatum turnover to cut the gap to 49-46 with 5:05 to go, but Tatum responded with two straight baskets to give his team breathing room. Indiana State didn’t score again until Moore hit a meaningless 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.
“We have veteran players who stayed poised and executed down the stretch,” Tatum said. “I’m never nervous when Darren and Stetson are on the court, and I wouldn’t have been nervous even if they took the lead.”
Southern Illinois shot only 38 percent in the first half, missing eight of its first 10 shots. The Salukis recovered in time for a 12-2 run to end the half that provided a 26-18 lead, with Brooks scoring their last six points, and led 49-32 midway through the second half.
- S. Illinois 64, Indiana St. 49
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